Thomson goes distance with 3-hitter

ATLANTA (AP) -- After watching a teammate botch a grounder

leading off the ninth, John Thomson turned around to pitch out of

the stretch.

And that's when it hit him.

"I realized it was the first time I had been in the stretch

since the fourth batter of the first inning," Thomson said, as if

he really didn't believe it himself.

Thomson pitched a three-hitter and retired 27 of the last 29

batters for his first complete game since 2003, leading the Atlanta

Braves past the slumping Houston Astros 9-3 on Thursday night.

Adam LaRoche homered and had a career-high four RBI for the

Braves, who pulled a half-game ahead of idle Florida for the top

spot in the NL East with their 10th win in 13 games.

Thomson (3-2) gave up two runs in the first but dominated the

rest of the way. He also had an RBI single in the sixth, when the

Braves blew open the game with their second four-run inning.

"My job is to go out there and put zeros up," Thomson said.

"You're a little bit relieved when your team scores a lot of runs.

On the other hand, you can't relax. I go out there with the same

intensity that I would in a 0-0 game."

Thomson was ahead in the count most of the night, throwing

first-pitch strikes to all but eight of the 31 hitters in his first

complete game since Aug. 24, 2003, while with the Texas Rangers.

"When they know they're not going to get ball one, ball two,

they've got to put the ball in play," he said. "That works to my

advantage. When they're getting aggressive early in the count, I

can throw more balls out of the strike zone."

The Astros have lost eight straight road games, dropping to 1-11

outside of Houston. This is their worst stretch away from home

since they lost 10 straight road games from May 16-June 8, 2000.

"We got two in the first and nothing else the rest of the

way," manager Phil Garner said. "Nothing else. Just nothing. No

hits at all. Two hits in the first and that was it."

LaRoche has seven RBI over the past two games. Coming off a

three-double performance the day before, he hit a three-run homer

over the center-field wall in the first inning.

LaRoche drove in his fourth run with a bases-loaded groundout in

the sixth. That eclipsed his previous career high of three RBI in

a game, accomplished most recently in Wednesday's victory over

Florida.

"I can't go out there like a leadoff guy and try to work the

count," LaRoche said. "I've got to be aggressive."

The Astros got off to a promising start. Willy Taveras led off

with a bunt single, and Craig Biggio followed with a double into

the left-field corner. Jose Vizcaino drove in the first run with a

groundout, and Mike Lamb's sacrifice fly gave Houston a 2-0 lead.

Thomson was nearly unhittable the rest of the way. His lone

mistake was a towering drive by Morgan Ensberg leading off the

fifth, snapping Thomson's streak of 32 consecutive innings without

giving up a homer.

The only other Houston baserunner reached in the ninth when

shortstop Rafael Furcal let Tavares' grounder slip under his glove

for an error.

Brandon Backe (2-2) couldn't do anything with his early lead. He

gave up four straight hits in the bottom half of the first,

including Chipper Jones' run-scoring single and LaRoche's 406-foot

homer that put the Braves ahead 4-2.

That's the way it's been all year for Backe, who has given up 10

of his 27 runs in the first.

"It seemed like everything I threw up there, they were going to

hit it," he said.

It didn't help that Backe was stricken with an upper respiratory

infection that's been making the rounds through the Houston

clubhouse. He went 5 1/3 innings, allowing nine hits and seven

runs.

"I felt weak," Backe said. "I couldn't put anybody away."

Atlanta added to its lead on Furcal's RBI single in the fourth,

then made it a rout by sending 10 batters to the plate in the

sixth. Ryan Langerhans, filling in for center fielder Andruw Jones,

led off with a double, and Thomson knocked out Backe with a

run-scoring single to right.

Chad Harville took over, but he couldn't find the plate. Three

straight walks brought home another run, and Brian Jordan finished

off the inning with an RBI single.Game notes
Astros 1B Jeff Bagwell didn't play because of a sore right

shoulder. ... Andruw Jones was a late scratch because of an aching

back and didn't get in a game for the first time this season. ...

Houston has lost three in a row and nine of 12.